ArmeniaNow.com - Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
February 13, 2004


Invalid Citizens: A visit to Georgy's house


Georgy and Galina

Every evening when the sun sets, Georgy Adamyan sits in his small room and waits as long as he can bear before firing his wood stove. He wants to save firewood. But the cold finds its way inside his 76-year old bones and being frugal yields to being warm.

Gradually the temperature inside the gray hostel room rises from -1C (30.2 Fahrenheit) to +5 (41 F).

“For 15 years my days start and end with one concern: Who can I apply to, approach or write a letter to help me have my own four walls, as we are refugees, aren't we?” Georgy says.

Like Georgy Adamyan, 35 people in 21 refugee families reside today in a building that belongs to Nersisyan College in Echmiadsin.

All the residents came here from Azerbaijan in 1988-1989. Georgy, who is chairman of the Refugee Council of the hostel, says that in the beginning there were a lot more refugees here.

“Twenty two families used to reside on each floor of the four-storied building,” he says. “In the course of time many people couldn't stand any more and left for Russia. Many others died.”

Georgy himself lives alone. His wife and children left him in Baku and went to Georgia . They call him sometimes and ask him to come and be with the rest of the family. But he says he will never leave Armenia, his homeland.

In Baku Georgy was working as a programmer-engineer in the Scientific-Research Institute. After moving to Echmiadsin he worked in a plastic-producing plant for five years. Then he became a pensioner. He gets 8,500 drams (about $15) a month and is happy that it will increase by about $1.75 this year.

His apartment is a bedroom and a bathroom. President Robert Kocharyan's portrait is placed in the bookcase.

“There are many difficulties, but for me there is no better place than Armenia ,” he says.

A clothesline is strung across the room where Georgy very carefully hangs his jacket, trousers and sport suit. Friends gave him the clothes. Strangers gave him the cups and plates on the buffet.

Neighbors welcome Georgy with love but they don't start talking to him, they immediately start to complain. Gurgen Khachatryan, 76, and Seda Khachatryan, 64, moved to Echmiadsin from Sheki , Azerbaijan in December, 1988.

“Everyday I remember a mad crowd approaching our house armed with sub-machine guns,” Seda says. “My knees failed me when I heard gunfire. We only managed to get dressed and run away. We were brought to Tbilisi by tanks and from there we were taken here.”

Their room is divided in half by a curtain like something out of the 1940s and on either side are household items mostly given by relatives.

Gurgen gets 4,000 drams (about $7) pension; and Seda, 3,500 drams (about $6). They heat their small room with the pieces of sticks they collect in the streets.

Making hissing sounds Gurgen drinks black tea made by his wife and remembers with fondness their two-storied house left in Sheki, “I don't believe that one day I will have my own house,” he says.

Seda.

Another neighbor, 68-year old Galina, interrupts the conversation. In Armenia she lost her husband, mother, son and brother. While Georgy might praise his “homeland”, she blames these terrible conditions for the death of her family.

Tears pour down her cheeks, but she talks, and says that they “don't live, we only breathe”.

 

“Let them give us only a house. I don't want anything else and let them never call us ‘refugees' any more. I don't want to tell people that I live in this miserable hostel.”

But she does live there. And it is miserable.

There is no water in the building. Residents carry water in buckets from neighboring houses.

“Things must change. People have installed their water-meters but they still continue to allow us to use water,” says Georgy .

 The floor of the toilet is covered with a thick layer of ice.

During 12 years Georgy Adamyan has sent about 30 letters to different responsible authorities in charge of issues related to refugees. His first letter was to the President. His last, January 27, was to the Migration and Refugee Department, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Norwegian Refugee Council

The last response he got was from a government office, saying his letter “will be taken into consideration”.

And maybe it will.

Last year, under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 28 families (56 people) were provided with apartments in Echmiadsin. The UN also plans to provide housing for 150 refugee families this year . (The Norwegian Refugee Council has not yet worked in Echmiadsin, but has provided housing for 66 families in Yerevan and has a 52-house project underway in Gyumri.)

“I don't believe anymore that the Migration and Refugee Department can do anything for us. The UN is our hope. Maybe we will be lucky and they will put us on the list of those 150 families,” Georgy says.

In their complaints, these residents who carry a label they don't want, also acknowledge the help they get from Mission Armenia (a non-governmental organization) and the Echmiadsin office of the Red Cross. Once a month the residents get free medical care and are provided with medicines.

We live like prisoners in cells without basic conditions,” says Georgy. “This is our home. All of us have passports of the Republic of Armenia. However we don't feel we are valid citizens.”


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